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Mixing Family and Business, or Love and Work: Candy Cane or Dynamite!

Family businesses are also made up of two components: 'family' and 'business'...

21 February, 2022
Family Business Succession, Article
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Candy cane is traditionally a cane shaped stick, sugar syrup mixture of white and red striped confectionery, usually given to children on St. Nicholas’ day.  It is a popular sweet treat.

Dynamite is an industrial explosive made up of a mixture of two components: nitroglycerine and kieselghur, a porous type of clay. When mixed together these two components form a relatively stable and safe explosive that can be detonated only with the use of a specific strength detonator. Dynamite has many positive uses such as mining, building demolition, pyrotechnics, mountain carving, agriculture, and even medicine. 

Like dynamite, family businesses are also made up of two components: 'family' and 'business'. By combining what are usually considered to be the two most important things in their lives – ‘love’ and ‘work’ – families-in-business create organisations with explosive potential power – either for better or for worse.

A great many members of families-in-business behave as if they are not aware that family business is potentially dynamite rather than candy cane.  As a result, they do not equip themselves to understand it better, and deal with it correctly, safely, and productively.

As an industrial explosive, dynamite is produced to standard specifications with a standard detonator.  This enables its handlers to create predictable and controllable explosions.  However, there is very little that is standard about families-in-business.  Each family-in-business combines the family and business its own way, with relatively little knowledge or even regard for ensuring that the mixture is stable. Few take the time, or make the effort, to identify situations or factors that could, or would, set their mixture off.  Accordingly, few are able to train and equip family members to deal with the potentially explosive mixture of family and business appropriately, safely and productively.

Becoming more consciously aware that family business is, potentially, dynamite, rather than candy cane, enables family members to take steps to harness its latent explosive power to produce positive outcomes and to anticipate and avoid predictable negative outcomes. To be stable and effective, families in business need to integrate the positive aspects of family into their businesses, and keep the negative aspects in check.

Incorrectly or inadequately handled, the potentially explosive power of a family-in-business can lead to distracting and damaging tensions and conflict, family feuds and break-ups, and business failure.  Properly handled, it can be put to good use leading to creativity, innovation, teamwork, enhanced productivity, and growth. It may be difficult, but it can be done. 

One of the ways to tackle the challenge is to help ‘bring the family business stakeholders to the table’ (not the kitchen table, but the boardroom table!)

  • to increase the level of awareness
  • to meet, to talk, and to listen to one another
  • to clarify aspirations, expectations, goals and objectives
  • to identify a shared vision or dream, or a uniting common purpose
  • to agree a family business Code of Conduct that integrates both family and business values and rules, and
  • to learn to work interdependently

Most importantly, to help them learn how to identify and handle, the likely ‘detonators’ that can cause their apparently stable mixture of family and business to explode with destructive consequences …

To gain a greater understanding of this and other family business issues click here to find out more details of the upcoming Family Business Essentials course in your state.

Written by Lucio Dana

Lucio Dana is an accredited FBA specialist family business advisor

As a specialist in family-in-business dynamics, communications, and continuity, Lucio helps members of business families work more effectively together as a team with clear values and uniting goals. In the process, related issues of longer-term success and continuity are also explored and addressed. 

Lucio is an accredited FBA specialist family business adviser and Margerison McCann Team Management System (TMS) facilitator. He is the facilitator of 2 FBA Forum Groups in Victoria. Over the years, Lucio developed and was a presenter of FBA’s Directors Course, Strategic Planning Course, and Leadership Transition Course.

Lucio – has taught family business at the Monash and RMIT Universities in Melbourne. He obtained his PhD in management from RMIT University – Research Topic: Family Business Continuity: Key Factors and Main Practices.


The views expressed in this content are those of the author, who is also responsible for any errors and omissions. Family Business Australia and New Zealand provides this article for your information only. The content of the article should not be taken as advice. If you wish to explore this topic, please consult an advisor who you consider to have the expertise to provide specific advice in relation to your family business.